Friday, 20 December 2013

Govanhill success for GLC's Payday Loan Survival Guide as relaunched with Glasgow University's Student Representative Council

Govan Law Centre's (GLC) Payday Loan Survival Guide has been redesigned and relaunched with the support of Glasgow University's Student Representative Council (GUSRC).  You can download the new GLC 'Breaking free from payday loan debt' leaflet here.

Working in partnership with GUSRC, we have also launched a separate Glasgow student version of the guide, which is available from GUSRC on Glasgow University's campus at the John McIntyre Building.

The guide has been used to help empower citizens to regain control of their finances and challenge unfair charges and interest whereever possible. Govanhill Law Centre (GhLC) solicitor, Rachel Moon, recently used the legal arguments in the guide to secure a fantastic outcome for a client in Glasgow's Govanhill.
GhLC's Rachel Moon, Solicitor
GhLC's Rachel Moon said: "Wonga currently have an advert showing the 'real life' stories of people who use Wonga, however the stories do not correspond with our experience with this pay day loan company and others.

Our client was hospitalised and off work and as a result receiving only statutory sick pay. Our client took out pay day loans as she was struggling to maintain her court agreed rent payment arrangement. These loans were continually rolled over incurring the additional fees and costs in addition to the high rates of interest. The money was taken directly from her account leaving her with little or no money to buy food and other necessities and certainly no money to pay her rent.

We made a complaint on behalf of our client to the 23 pay day loan companies who had given her credit in a matter of minutes. This was on the basis that the companies had not undertaken proper creditworthy assessments under the Consumer Credit Act 1974, as they are required to do and that the loans should be written off as a result. We argued that it should have been apparent from the assessment carried out that the loan was not suitable or affordable for our client.

Payday loans aren't cuddly or cheap
We have had some success and a number of the companies have confirmed that they will write off the debt in its entirety; other companies have advised that no further interest will be added to the outstanding amounts and would offer a settlement figure of capital alone. During this process, it was discovered that an administration fee was incurred when our client went through a broker website. When requested to do so, these have all been repaid within a number of days".

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Tuesday, 17 December 2013

75% of Scottish Government consultation responses against 'four year bankruptcies' in Scotland

In a news statement to Money Saving Expert (MSE) yesterday, the Scottish Government suggested its proposal to make Scots pay more over a longer period in bankruptcy had support from its public consultation on the draft Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill.

A Scottish Government spokesperson told MSE: "We consulted on this proposal and the majority of stakeholders who expressed a preference preferred a longer contribution period for bankruptcy of five years".

What the Scottish Government statement singularly failed to do was explain how the majority of consultation responses to this question - 75% of all responses - believed there was no need for change at all  (para 5.64, page 54 of the Accountant in Bankruptcy's analysis of consultation responses).

The Scottish Government had originally proposed a multiple range of 'products' within bankruptcy with different conditions and criteria which was ultimately viewed as an over-complication of the remedy.

Extrapolating support for 'four year bankruptcies' from Question 10.41a when 75% of respondents were either against the proposal or in favour of the status quo would suggest the Scottish Government is not prepared to listen to its own public consultation. There is an overwhelming majority of civic Scotland against making poor people pay more.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: "The underlying rationale of this Bill is regressive and draconian. It changes bankruptcy from a well understood last resort of debt relief, into a vehicle to extract as much money as possible from all debtors in order to pay for the administration costs of the Accountant in Bankruptcy - an agency of the Scottish Government - and to swing the pendulm in the favour of creditors regardless of the impact on vulnerable debtors. In so doing, the Bill takes us back to 1913 Scotland".
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Friday, 6 December 2013

Don’t punish the poor and those in financial crisis in Scotland – Scrap clause 4


In two weeks time, the Bankruptcy and Debt Advice (Scotland) Bill will undergo its Stage 1 vote in the Scottish Parliament.  Clause 4 of the Bill would break with almost 30 years of Scots law history by requiring a debtor in bankruptcy to make payments to his creditors over four years instead of three. It also gives the Accountant in Bankruptcy – an agency of the Scottish Government – a new power to decide the level of payments in all cases by way of a ‘Debtor Contribution Order’.

Why make people in crisis pay more now?
Last year, the UK economy was in recession and our recovery this year is very slow, with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) bumping along at just over 0.5% growth. In real terms in Scotland, incomes and wages have been eroded by inflation, the cost of living has increased, fuel costs have increased by over 10% year on year, and UK austerity measures have seen a massive cut to public services and welfare benefits. Why then change Scots law to make those in financial crisis pay more and pay longer?

GLC believes clause 4 of the Scottish Government’s Bill is ill-considered and-ill advised. It presents a solution to a problem that does not exist. It has no support from the Scottish advice sector, and even most creditors do not support it. It will mean Scots have to pay longer than anyone else in the rest of the UK – and for those in financial crisis this equates to greater hardship.

Last month’s ‘Maxed out’ report examined the impact of problem debt in the UK and found that “The costs to those affected, in stress and mental disorders, relationship breakdown and hardship is immense. But so too is the cost to the nation, measured in lost employment and productivity and in an increased burden on public services”. 

Scotland’s laws on bankruptcy were designed in 1985 to provide respite and relief for citizens in financial crisis; an opportunity to get their life back on track. Why is the Scotland Government proposing to punish debtors when we ought to be helping them?  A recent Money Advice Service survey confirmed that Scotland has some of the worst ‘debt black spots’ in the UK, with 30.9% of people in Inverclyde in debt, 29% in Glasgow, 28.8% in Dundee, 27.6% in East Ayrshire and 26.9% in West Dunbartonshire.

GLC’s Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly said: “We see no case to force all Scots in financial crisis to pay more and longer in bankruptcy, particularly at a time of austerity when families are struggling to make ends meet”.

“To compound matters the Bill would also replace the helpful ‘Low income low asset’ (LILA) expedited form of bankruptcy with a new procedure with a £10,000 debt level cap. This will exclude many Scots with no assets and push them into a four year repayment plan through ordinary bankruptcy. Alternatively it will exclude them from debt relief altogether, exposing them to ongoing debt collection, none of which makes any sense”.

“GLC believes that forcing poor and insolvent Scots to pay more and longer to access the lifeline that bankruptcy provides is a regressive and mean spirited policy than even the Grinch would shirk at. GLC hopes the Scottish Government will reconsider this departure from 30 years of Scots law history. We intend to launch a broad church campaign to scrap clause 4, so that impecunious Scots in financial crisis are not punished at a time when they need help”.

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Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Part-time solicitor vacancy (maternity cover)


Part-Time Solicitor (0.5 FTE) sought for maternity cover.  Court and/or tribunal experience required. Experience in housing, employment, social security or other areas of social welfare law would be an advantage. 

Please send CV and covering letter to Mike Dailly at Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow, G51 2BZ or m@ govanlc.com.  Closing date noon on Friday 13 December 2013. Govan Law Centre is a Scottish charity SC030193.

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Friday, 29 November 2013

GLC goes to Eilean Siar (the Western Isles)

GLC's Principal Solicitor will provide a free legal seminar next week in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, on a range of contentious topics including welfare reform, the bedroom tax, payday loans and consumer credit law.

The event will see advisors and housing professionals from across Eilean Siar come together in Stornoway to discuss the impact of welfare reform, its interaction with payday lending and debt, and what can be done to protect the rights of islanders.

Separate meetings have been arranged with local advocacy workers, and tenant representatives to discuss the work of Govan Law Centre, the role of community law centres, and how the law can be used to both protect the rights of tenants and vulnerable citizens, and help deliver social justice in Scotland.
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Sunday, 24 November 2013

Govan Law Centre pays tribute to Danny McColgan, GLC Board Member

Danny McColgan
The Board and staff of Govan Law Centre (GLC) are deeply saddened by the recent and sudden death of our Board Member, Danny McColgan on Thursday, 21st of November 2013. 

Danny was a highly respected and long standing trustee of GLC, helping to support and secure the development of our community law centre from just four staff in the early days to almost 30 today.

Danny McColgan was a Govan man through and through. Born and bred in Govan, with his father being a Govan shipbuilder, whenever he wasn’t travelling he would return to the Govan area to live. It was only in later years he moved to Irvine in Ayrshire.

He lived a long, well-lived, well-travelled and varied life gaining along the way a very broad world experience, he lived a live in the service of the UK – Soldier, Merchant Seaman and in Aviation.  

He travelled the world experiencing many different cultures and perspectives. Danny lived through and experienced first-hand the world events that shaped how the world is today.
Danny in 1949

Danny was always ‘left of centre’ and was a long time Civil Service Union and Labour Party activist, he campaigned for peace, was vociferously anti-war and anti-nuclear weapons. 

In World War 2 he fought at the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden. He was seriously injured during the final advance into Germany in 1945.

Danny was well loved and respected by his family, his colleagues and others. He will be sorely missed by all at Govan Law Centre and we were fortune that he served on our Board for many years. Our thoughts are with his family.

A funeral service will take place at Holmsford Bridge Crematorium, Irvine, KA11 4EF on Monday 9th December 2013 at 3pm.

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Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Financial Ombudsman rules credit checks should include income drop on retirement and sets zero mortgage interest rate for Glasgow couple

A retired Glasgow couple who faced the repossession of their home from an unaffordable secured loan have been successful in a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service. The couple had been advised to refinance and consolidate secured and unsecured loans with Black Horse Ltd over a longer period and at a APR of around 15% two years prior to retirement. The couple had substantial equity in their home but found that their income dropped significantly two years after taking out the loan in 2008 upon retirement. They approached Govan Law Centre when threatened with repossession in relation to their second charge secured loan.

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly, argued that the lender ought to have fairly considered the couple's income on retirement given that the affordability check under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 took place two years before retirement; and any reasonable creditor would have considered the affordability of the loan not just when the customer was in full employment aged 64; particularly so given that this was a loan secured on their home. The lender objected to this line of reasoning, but the Ombudsman agreed and held as follows:

"I think that it would have been reasonable for Black Horse to ask when Mr B was going to retire and what his income would have been ... If Black Horse had obtained details of Mr B's retirement income, (and taking into account Mrs B's income) I don't see how it could fairly have lent Mr and Mrs B the amount it did - the loan was always going to be unaffordable once Mr B retired".

The Ombudsman ruled that the lender should charge no further interest on the couple's secured loan and restructure it to enable it to be repaid at £200 per month.

GLC's Mike Dailly said: "This is a fantastic outcome for our clients, and means an unaffordable loan can now be repaid on an interest free basis, averting the threat of repossession proceedings and homelessness."

"We also think other consumers can use the reasoning underpinning this decision because there is a worrying practice across the UK of some lenders targeting 'equity rich, income poor' customers, whereby unaffordable loans are secured on the value in the consumers' homes."

"This ruling by the Financial Ombudsman Service makes it clear that UK lenders have to undertake proper affordability checks and lend responsibly, taking into consideration the customer's income now and if close to retirement, any drop in income at that time".

The final decision of the Financial Ombudsman is available here.
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Wednesday, 13 November 2013

GLC gives evidence to Welfare Reform Committee on 'No evictions for bedroom tax' petition

Representatives of Glasgow's Govan Law Centre were in attendance at the Scottish Parliament yesterday (12 November 2013) to give evidence to the Welfare Reform Committee on our 'No evictions for bedroom tax' petition, and the proposed Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill.

The session is available to watch via the BBC Democracy site here. A full transcript of the session is available via the Parliament's Official Report here (opens as PDF). The session featured on BBC 2's Politics Scotland here (36 min into show via the iPlayer).

GLC argued the case that it was not economically viable to evict Scottish tenants solely because of the bedroom tax in the short to medium term; that Scottish Government and other promises of 'no eviction for the bedroom tax' required to be backed up with statutory teeth, and ultimately the Scottish Government should use its underspend to off-set the bedroom tax, which was £30m this year; and £53m in 2014/15.

GLC were disappointed that representatives of both the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) and the Chartered Institute of Housing in Scotland (CIHiS) continued to press for the ability to evict tenants notwithstanding they were unable to pay under-occupancy deductions. Both the SFHA and CIHiS paid lip service to tenants not being evicted 'if they engaged' with their landlord. What 'engaged' actually meant was paying the bedroom tax, and the grim reality is that disabled tenants and those on benefits are not able to afford to shoulder the cost of bedroom tax deductions on any sustainable basis.

Very worryingly, both the SFHA and the CIHiS refused to support the call for the Scottish Government to off-set the cost of the bedroom tax in Scotland, thus evidencing that they were in truth content to see Scottish tenants evicted if they were unable to pay bedroom tax shortfalls in their rent.
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Friday, 1 November 2013

GLC publish free toolkit for Scottish homeowners with property factor disputes

Govan Law Centre has published a free tookit for Scottish homeowners who are unhappy with the service received from their property factors (property managers). The free toolkit, supported by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, explains the rights of customers in relation to the relevant law - including the Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011, which was drafted by GLC for Patricia Ferguson MSP - the registration process for property factors, the statutory Code of Conduct, and the new dispute resolution procedure in Scotland.

The toolkit includes illustrative letters of complaint and step-by-step help on how to complete an application to the new Homeowner Housing Panel, with common examples. GLC had spearheaded a campaign over a number of years to regulate the property management industry in Scotland, and provide a consumer-friendly form of alternative dispute resolution for homeowners that had 'legal teeth'.

In 2009, the Office of Fair Trading undertook a market study of the property factor industry and concluded that: 'This is a market that is not working well for many homeowners in Scotland. People often have little or no understanding about their rights, households rarely switch factors, suppliers do not seem to be actively competing with each other and the options for consumers when things go wrong are very limited'. The 2011 Act was the Scottish Parliament's response to these significant problems.

GLC Property Factor Toolkit is available here (opens as PDF). The toolkit was written by GLC's Samantha Brown, solicitor, and Ailie Doyle, Public Legal Education Officer at Govanhill Law Centre.

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Tuesday, 29 October 2013

GLC publish Updated Bedroom Tax Toolkit

Govan Law Centre's successful and popular Bedroom Tax Toolkit has now been updated to take on board recent successful First Tier Tribunal decisions in Scotland and England, and to explain how tenants who may be unable to pursue late appeals can nevertheless challenge bedroom tax decisions by way of supersession.

The GLC Bedroom Tax Toolkit was first launched on 6 April 2013 and has since been downloaded many thousands of times across the UK, and been used by many advice agencies and campaign groups across the country in Scotland, England, and Wales. You can download a free updated version of GLC's Bedroom Tax Toolkit in PDF format hereThe Bedroom Tax Toolkit is part of GLC's wider public and parliamentary campaign to prevent evictions and human misery from the bedroom tax.
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Tuesday, 1 October 2013

European Convention on Human Rights bedroom tax victory for severely disabled woman

A Tribunal Judge in Glasgow has set-aside an under-occupancy decision against a severely disabled woman on the grounds that it was incompatible with the appellants rights under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 1 of the First Protocol. GLC believes this may be the first reported successful UK challenge on Human Rights grounds against the bedroom tax.

The woman, with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis, was expected to share a specially adapted bedroom with her husband. The imposition of the bedroom tax had placed the couple in arrears of rent with their housing association landord. Tribunal Judge Boyd held that:

"In terms of section 3(1) of the Human Rights Act 1998 regulation B13(5)(a) of the Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 can and should be read as follows:  "(a) a couple (within the meaning of Part 7 of the Act) (or one member of a couple who cannot share a bedroom because of severe disability)."  Not to so read it would be incompatible with the appellant's rights under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights read with Article 1 of the First Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights".

"Applying regulation B13(5)(a) as so read, the appellant is entitled to two bedrooms.  Accordingly there should not be an under occupancy reduction of 14% in her housing benefit entitlement from 1 April 2013.”

The Tribunal judge distinguished the present case from the recent unsuccessful judgment of the English High Court in MA, and supported the appellent's position that the English Court of Appeal's decision in Gorry was in point with the facts and circumstances of the appellant:

"The judgement in MA, at paragraph 88, distinguished the ten cases before the High Court under judicial review procedure from the decision in Gorry on the basis that Gorry related to a discrete group; families with children who could not share a bedroom by reason of their disabilities.  This approach was not applied in MA as it was considered that there was no discrete group.  As explained above, the Tribunal considers that the appellant is a member of a discrete group very similar to the group considered in Gorry – a person who cannot share a bedroom by reason of her severe disabilities - and as a result Gorry is the case most in point.  The judgement in Gorry was made by a higher Court that the judgment in MA.  It related to a statutory appeal, as is the case here, rather than a judicial review.  It is noted that there will be no appeal against the decision in Gorry but that permission has been granted for an appeal to be made against the decision in MA, and this appeal is being expedited".

The appellant's solicitor, GLC's Mike Dailly, said: "We are delighted for our client, and believe that this judgment is very robust as there was no dispute on the facts that the appellant was severely disabled and could not share her specially adapted bedroom with her husband. She did not have a spare or extra bedroom, she required her own bedroom to meet her needs as a severely disabled person. We think this decision - which we understand may be the first reported success in using unlawful discrimination and human rights law to challenge a bedroom tax decision in the UK - will be of great significance to other severely disabled people in similar circumstances to our client".

The judgment of Tribunal Judge LD Boyd is published here (with some personal data redacted to preserve our client's right of confidentiality).

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Thursday, 26 September 2013

Protection from Eviction (Bedroom Tax) (Scotland) Bill proposal and consultation launched

A bill that would protect victims of the bedroom tax has been lodged with the Scottish Parliament by Scottish Labour's social justice spokesperson Jackie Baillie. The bill proposal and consultation paper can be viewed online here

Govan Law Centre (GLC) has assisted in the drafting of the Bill proposal and accompanying documents. The proposed legislation will ensure that anyone who falls into arrears as a result of the bedroom tax will not be evicted from their home. 

The bill has been backed by Govan Law Centre, the Church of Scotland, the STUC, the Poverty Alliance, both the Bedroom Tax Campaigns in Scotland and many others besides. 

Jackie Baillie said: "The bedroom tax is unfair and unworkable, it doesn't make financial sense and is targeting some of the most vulnerable tenants in our communities. David Cameron should end this unjust policy right now. We have an opportunity to make it clear that all victims of the bedroom tax, whether council or housing association tenants, will be protected from eviction from their homes." 

Tommy McMahon, Govan Law Centre's Chairman said: "GLC fully supports Jackie Baillie proposed Bill which would prevent bedroom tax rent arrears being used to evict Scottish secure tenants. It makes no economic sense to evict tenants, disabled people and children for bedroom tax arrears when they cannot downsize to a smaller property in practice, obtain a smaller specially adapted home, or find an extra £50 per month from breadline benefits. The Scottish Parliament has the power to protect tenants from the bedroom tax and it's time to act."

The Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland said: “At this year’s General Assembly, the Church of Scotland agreed to press the Scottish Government for legislation guaranteeing there would be no evictions for rent arrears accrued simply by failing to make the additional payments caused by the “bedroom tax”.  Whilst we recognise that local authority budgets are being continually squeezed, forcing those who cannot afford these additional payments  to carry the burden for this flawed  policy is not fair.  We urge the UK Government, Scottish Government and local authorities to work together to find a more equitable solution.  I welcome Jackie Baillie’s proposals, but with the reversal of the “bedroom tax” policy, they would not be needed in the first place.”

Peter Kelly of the Poverty Alliance said: "It is hard to underestimate the negative impact that the bedroom tax is having on individuals and communities across Scotland. Not only are people struggling to get by on already reduced incomes, but now many are fearful about being evicted from their homes. In this context we must explore every opportunity to protect individuals from the impact of the Bedroom Tax. We therefore welcome the launch of Jackie Baillie’s Members Bill and would encourage organisations and individuals to respond to the consultation. Every effort must be made to protect individuals and communities from this disastrous policy."

Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC said: “STUC wants the Bedroom Tax repealed by Westminster and action in Scotland to prevent tenants getting into debt.  But STUC is also ultimately opposed to the eviction of Scottish tenants whose arrears are a consequence of the Bedroom Tax.  The Scottish Parliament has the power to act on this by supporting Jackie Baillie’s Bill and in so doing reinforce its opposition to this iniquitous and inhumane measure.”

Gail Morrow of the Scottish Anti-Bedroom tax Federation said: "We have supported the Govan Law Centre petition, and helped it to gain over 5000 signatures. Now that there is a member’s bill based on it, put forward by Jackie Baillie MSP, the actions called for by the petition are one step closer to being acted upon. This will remove the threat of eviction from the thousands of people who worry about paying for basics such as food and heating. The bedroom tax is a horrible piece of legislation, forced upon us by the Westminster government. In Scotland, we don't have the power to repeal the bedroom tax, but we do have the power to remove the worst effect of it - the threat of eviction." 

Alan Wyllie of the No2 Bedroom Tax campaign said: “The Scottish Government should be leading on this issue and taking a stand against the bedroom tax. We support this Bill because it would remove the fear of eviction for thousands of bedroom tax victims across Scotland. However the Scottish Government must also pledge to fund the £50m ‘bedroom tax shortfall’ so council and housing association budgets don’t have to pay the price for this cruel tax.”

Cllr Mark Macmillan, Leader of Renfrewshire Council said:
"Jackie Baillie and Scottish Labour are to be congratulated on bringing forward measures today to protect tenants who are being pushed into debt because of the bedroom tax.  Scottish Councils can commit to no evictions policies just now – but over 40% of tenants in Scotland live in housing association properties.  Councils cannot protect these people and we need the Scottish Government to act decisively now to protect this group of tenants."

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How to change your bank and personal banking problems in the UK

This month UK banks introduced a new '7 day switching' (seven working days) guaranteed service which means you can now change banks in a similar way to switching electricity or gas suppliers. All of your direct debits are automatically switched and payments redirected for 13 months. If anything goes wrong the bank will refund any charges. How does it work in practice?

GLC's Principal Solicitor, Mike Dailly joined BBC's Money Box Live's panel in London to discuss switching personal current accounts, along with problems with personal current accounts, unauthorised payments, bank charges, overdrafts, ethical current accounts, joint accounts, PPI, packaged bank accounts and CPP products. Also on the panel were Craig Donaldson, CEO of Metro Bank, and Emma Cocksedge, Senior Product Manager with First Direct. You can listen to the show again on the BBC's iPlayer here.
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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Glasgow fights back against predatory payday lenders

Payday lenders are under attack in Glasgow like nowhere else in the UK, writes Phillip Inman, Economics Correspondent of The Observer and The Guardian. 

Without waiting for Westminster politicians to tackle the burgeoning instant loan industry, Glasgow City Council has banned all access to Wonga and its lookalikes in libraries and colleges. Glasgow's trading standards officers tour shopping parades to check on offers for loans agreements and APRs that breach the Consumer Credit Act.

Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor of Govan Law Centre, is challenging the contracts that allow payday lenders to snatch their customers' bank-account funds, while also defending people who, in the most extreme cases, take out £200 loans only to find their home being repossessed.
The crackdown coincides with the biggest promotion of credit unions anywhere in the UK. As an alternative to banks, these unions may conjure up an old-fashioned image in the minds of many people, but in Glasgow they are taking to the high street and can be found inside the swankiest shopping centres. One in four Glaswegians now have a credit union account. 
According to the council treasurer Cllr Paul Rooney, this go-it-alone approach is necessary to scale down an annual £57m binge on payday loans, door-to-door credit and pawnbrokers that affects one in five of the city's population. In November, the council will begin allocating credit union accounts to new secondary school pupils and handing them £10 toward their savings.  Read the full story in The Observer here.

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Friday, 20 September 2013

BBC Radio 4's Money Box discussion of successful tribunal challenges to bedroom tax decisions

BBC Radio 4's Money Box has discussed the issue of successful first tier tribunal challenges to the bedroom tax (Saturday, 14 September 2013). You can listen to GLC's Principal Solicitor explain the implications of the Fife Law Centre cases decided by Tribunal Judge Simon Collins Q.C on the BBC iPlayer. There is also a reference to current challenges for disabled tenants and occupiers based on unlawful discrimination and ECHR caselaw. The discussion starts 19 mins into the show on the BBC iPlayer here. GLC is in the process of updating its 'Bedroom Tax Toolkit' to take on board the lastest case law developments - more details as soon as possible.
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Thursday, 5 September 2013

Govan Law Centre seeks Trainee Solicitor

Govan Law Centre is seeking a new Trainee Solicitor to join its award winning legal team.  The role will include defending evictions and mortgage repossessions as part of our new Prevention of Homelessness City Rights Hubs in Glasgow City, along with undertaking work in our Govanhill Law Centre office, working with the Roma community and EU migrant workers.

The new post will also have scope to undertake legal work within our national Education Law Unit, which provides expert advice and representation in the field of Scots education law. There may also be an opportunity to undertake Scottish Parliamentary law reform and social justice campaign work. We believe this is a fantastic opportunity for someone who has a demonstrable passion for social justice in Scotland.

Please send CV and a relevant covering letter to: Mike Dailly, Principal Solicitor at Govan Law Centre, 18-20 Orkney Street, Glasgow, G51 2BZ or m@govanlc.com. Closing date noon, Friday 27 September 2013. No recruitment agencies necessary thank-you. 

Govan Law Centre is a Registered Scottish Charity SC030193 http://www.govanlc.com/ And aims to be an Equal Opportunities Employer. You must hold, or be entitled to hold, a valid Entrance Certificate from the Law Society of Scotland to apply for this post, in relation to a proposed start date of October/November 2013.

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Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Govan Law Centre to draft Bill to prevent vulnerable Scots being evicted for bedroom tax arrears

Glasgow's Govan Law Centre (GLC) is delighted to announce that it's 'No Evictions for Bedroom Tax Arrears petition' will now be taken forward as a Member's Bill in the Scottish Parliament. The sponsoring member is Jackie Baillie, the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Welfare and MSP for Dumbarton. GLC has agreed to provide full legal and policy support in the drafting of the proposed legislation and accompanying documents.

'Under-occupancy deductions' are losing tenants of councils and housing associations in Scotland £12 per week on average, with some tenants losing as much as £22 per week in housing benefit. Around 105,000 households in Scotland are affected by the bedroom tax, of which 80% contain a person with a disability.

When it comes to Scottish rent arrears eviction actions in sheriff courts, often the success or failure of a tenant in preventing eviction will turn on a few pounds per week, for example the standard payment for arrears direct is £3.55 per week. Accordingly, £12 to £22 per week being deducted from rent payments under the bedroom tax creates the perfect storm for a major increase in evictions and homelessness in Scotland, as tenants are unable to downsize or find extra money from very low incomes.

Govan Law Centre's Chairman, Tommy McMahon said: "Govan Law Centre has suggested a small amendment to section 16 of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 which would prevent 'bedroom tax rent arrears' being used to establish or justify a crave for eviction, and instead the landlord could obtain a payment decree for these 'type of arrears', and pursue them an ordinary debt".

"We are very grateful that Jackie Baillie MSP has agreed to champion this law reform proposal, and stand up for Scotland's most vulnerable tenants. It makes no economic sense to evict tenants, disabled people and children for bedroom tax arrears when they cannot downsize to a smaller property in practice, obtain a smaller specially adapted home, or find an extra £50 per month from breadline benefits. The Scottish Parliament has the power to protect tenants from the bedroom tax and it's time to act'.

GLC is also supporting the calls - along with Shelter Scotland and many others - on the Scottish Government to find £50m for social landlords to off-set the impact of the bedroom tax.
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Sunday, 25 August 2013

GLC cautions against presuming non-payment of bedroom tax arrears leads to 'intentional homelessness'

A number of recent housing articles and commentators have suggested that where a tenant is evicted due to the inability to pay rent due to under-occupancy (bedroom tax) deductions, they will 'usually be classified as intentionally homeless', and not be entitled to alternative accommodation as a homeless person. This is not a correct statement of the law in Scotland or England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

The statutory intentional homelessness test requires a deliberate act or omission in consequence of which accommodation is lost. This essentially requires local authorities to consider the issue of fault. For example, in the English Court of Appeal case of William v. London Borough of Wandsworth the court expressed this test as follows:

"I accept, of course, that it was for the authority to explain why it took the view that the failure to pay monies due under the mortgage was 'deliberate' within the meaning of section 191(1) of the 1996 Act: or, to put the point the other way, why the failure to pay monies due under the mortgage was not properly to be treated as 'non-deliberate' – in the sense that it was forced upon the applicant through no fault of his own" (at para 36, [2006] EWCA Civ 535).

Where a tenant is paying rent (by way of housing benefit) but accrues rent arrears due to the effect of the bedroom tax and is unable to take any reasonable steps to avoid this, then there would be a strong presumption that this was not the 'fault' of the tenant. If so, a tenant in such circumstances who lost their home should not be deemed intentionally homeless. There is ample authority for this principle, for example:

In R v. Tower Hamlets London Borough Council ex parte Mahmood a council tenant was evicted for arrears.  She was found to have become homeless intentionally. Sir Louis Blom-Cooper Q.C quashed the council’s decision as it failed to indicate whether the council had found that Ms Mahmood deliberately failed to pay her rent – as opposed to being in multiple debt and unable to pay.

R v. Tower Hamlets London Borough Council ex parte Ullah (1992) 24 HLR 680 was a case where an owner occupier in multiple debt sold his house to repay debts: insufficient enquiries were made into the necessity of this course of action and a decision of intentional homelessness was quashed by the court.

Tenants in the South and North East of Glasgow can contact Govan Law Centre's Prevention of Homelessness team for further advice and where possible legal representation: (t) 0141 440 2503.
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